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Après Un Rêve
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Violin Sonata No.1 in A major Op.13 [26:56]
Après un rêve Op.7 No.1 (arranged by Pablo Casals) [2:52]
Morceau de lecture (version for violin and piano) [1:33]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Préludes Book 1 No.12 “Minstrels” (arranged by the composer) [2:22]
Beau Soir (transcribed by Jascha Heifetz) [2:26]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Vocalise-étude en forme de habanera (arranged by Georges Catherine) [3:00]
Berceuse sur le nom de Fauré [2:25]
Violin Sonata in G major [18:15]
Christian Svarfvar (violin)
Roland Pöntinen (piano)
rec. Grünewaldsalen, Konserthuset, Stockholm, 2014/15
Reviewed in surround
BIS BIS-2183 SACD [61:08]

The Swedish violin and piano duo of Christian Svarfvar and Roland Pöntinen here offer a programme of works by three great French composers. The recital is framed by two substantial sonatas by Fauré and Ravel, with shorter items by them as well as two by Debussy.

Fauré’s First Violin Sonata was the first chamber work of an artist who would go on to become a cornerstone of the French, or for that matter the European, chamber repertory. The sonata was a success at its premiere and has been a staple of the genre ever since. Christian Svarfvar and Roland Pöntinen make the piece sound rather Brahmsian – which in some ways it is in the outer movements, so this is not inappropriate (it was published first in Germany). There is plenty of spontaneous-sounding playing off each other between violinist and pianist, and Svarfvar’s fiddle is bright and incisive in tone, occasionally even a touch aggressive. The tempi are persuasive and the balance between the instruments means the violin is never obscured by heavier moments of keyboard passagework, as can often happen live with this combination. Yet I have often felt that this sonata’s near half-hour length is not truly justified by the quality of its material, and even these excellent artists do not quite prevent it outstaying its welcome.

Maurice Ravel’s sonata – his last chamber work, just as Fauré’s sonata was his first - was composed 50 years later and modernism had exploded in Paris in the meantime, not to mention influences from the United States, especially Jazz. Ravel’s second movement is actually entitled ‘Blues’, and is very successful here, its steady tread evoking the insomniac composer’s occasional nocturnal walks though the City of Light. The opening Allegretto is also played with just the right degree of insouciance in its quasi-pastoral manner, and the perpetuum mobile of the finale is relentless enough but not too quick, so that the details register along the way. This performance is the best of any on the disc.

Between these two major works, we hear a handful of shorter pieces. Ravel’s Spanish Pièce en forme de habanera is done with plenty of Iberian character. His Berceuse, a tribute to his teacher Fauré, is a strange sort of cradle song, as surely any musical baby would wonder at its bitonality, but Svarfvar and Pöntinen play it beguilingly. Debussy’s own arrangement of his own piano prelude “Minstrels” sounds exactly as if it was written as an original duo piece, and the players find more quirky wit in it than some solo piano versions one has heard. Fauré’s ever-popular early song “Après un rêve” has been much arranged, and if one has to forgo the human voice, then the violin makes an evocative substitute, especially played with such tender intimacy as here. Overall this is a fine disc, with good notes and SACD sound. Collectors who have favourite version of the two sonatas will probably not feel that those allegiances are quite displaced by these interpretations, but the programme is attractive and well-balanced, and those looking for just this repertoire will not be disappointed.

Roy Westbrook


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